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Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, November 17, 2000

Hawaii is losing
its trailblazers

THIS column is called "Changing Hawaii," which can be interpreted in a trio of ways. It could mean that Hawaii is changing. Or that we've got to change Hawaii. Or if pronounced as "Chang-ing Hawaii," it's a playful punning of my Chinese last name.

All three interpretations came to mind this week on learning of the death of Kan Jung "K.J." Luke, the esteemed 86-year-old developer and founder of Hawaii National Bank.

The last time I had a lengthy conversation with him was -- egads, more than a decade ago -- on Feb. 20, 1989.

Back then, I was editor of Hawaii Business magazine.

We had organized a Saturday morning photo shoot of Luke and six other pillars of the Chinese-American business community for a story commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Chinese coming to the islands.

As the men fidgeted with their ties and made small talk, I quietly slipped into the group and motioned to the photographer to snap a practice shot.

Somehow I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be captured on film with greatness. Seven men, all self-made millionaires.

Yesterday, I dusted off the old picture and smiled at it with sadness. Now gone, besides K.J. Luke, are:

Bullet Hung Wo Ching, who helped save Aloha Airlines from debt and successfully led the effort to take the interisland airline private in 1987 in the face of a hostile takeover attempt by a Texas company.

Bullet Sheridan C.F. Ing, the soft-spoken but influential investor, director of multiple corporate boards and developer of properties such as Yacht Harbor Towers, the Royal Iolani and Admiral Thomas condominiums.

Still alive are:

Bullet Hiram L. Fong, the first Asian to be elected to the U.S. Senate, developer of the Market City Shopping Center and one of the founders of Finance Factors.

Bullet William "Bill" K.H. Mau, who led American Security Bank in the late 1950s and '60s, and who built the Waikiki Business Plaza and adjacent Waikiki Shopping Plaza.

Bullet Brothers Robert H.C. and James H.H. Wo of C.S. Wo Furniture fame.

They were -- and still are -- noteworthy individuals of Chinese ancestry, as were others like the legendary Chinn Ho of Capital Investment, C.K. Ai of City Mill and Lau Kung, who along with her son-in-law, Maurice Sullivan, launched the Foodland Super Market chain.

THEY are inspiring because they gave birth to lasting accomplishments against obstacles including ethnic discrimination and infrastructure woes. They had vision, drive, guts and seemingly no fear of failure.

True, these qualities exist in our current business and political leadership. But there is a big difference between then and now.

In the old days, people in Hawaii made things happen. Today, we are too often waiting for things to happen to us.

This state is at the mercy of so many formidable outside forces, it's frightening.

Look at the cyclical influx of tourists, volatile foreign economies and markets, fickle federal spending and, as of late, rich Internet tycoons snapping up choice coastline properties so they can become part-time residents.

This place is changing, all right. But is it changing for the better? Are we in control of the change?

And what would the people who changed it decades ago think if they could see what we've become?

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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